What’s Different About Working Now Compared to When I Was in the Workplace?

Has it been awhile since you last went into an office?

If so, you may be wondering how things are different since you previously worked full-time. Many returners in the Path Forward community, for example, are coming off of career breaks of two years, five years, or ten years or more.

A lot has changed!

Rest assured, though, that your life and job experiences provide you with a solid foundation from which to grow. Add to that our ten insights below, and you’ll have a great head start for returning and thriving at your next workplace.

1. Casual Friday is casual every day

The dress code has changed. Even very traditional companies such as accounting firms have relaxed their looks. The benefit to you? A lower wardrobe bill. The downside? Not knowing how to strike the right balance between professional and casual when you do go into the office. One trend: many garments have “elasticized.”

Check out this helpful article from Fairygodboss, What ‘Business Casual’ Really Means for Women.

2. Corporate jargon speak

The words spoken at work may seem like a foreign language at first. KPIs, sprints, bandwidth – what does it mean?

“Everyone around me would be reeling off corporate speak,” says Palavi, who had a 10-year career break before returning to work as an engineer. “I would be like, “Oh, wow, I was like that before, but I can’t speak that jargon anymore.’ It definitely requires practice.”

You’ll want to take your cues from co-workers, listen closely, and take notes, if necessary, to get back in the groove.

During her returnship, one Path Forward alum wrote down all of the unfamiliar words she was hearing. This impromptu glossary was so popular with her fellow returners that it became a standard company onboarding document.

Here’s a list of 50 jargon words and phrases often used in the workplace. (Your company and field will also have its own go-to phrases and acronyms.)

3. Many jobs now include remote work

The pandemic changed so many things, including a widespread switch to remote work.

How many people still work remotely? According to a Pew Research Center study, “Roughly three years after the COVID-19 pandemic upended U.S. workplaces, about a third (35 percent) of workers with jobs that can be done remotely are working from home all of the time.”

Even though some employers want to bring everyone back into the office, many people still enjoy the advantages of working from home at least a couple of days a week (hybrid work). Such positions are highly coveted, especially among returners, because of the flexibility they offer and commuting time they eliminate.

If you’ve never worked remotely before, check out this article on how to set up a home office you’ll love.

4. Generations X, Z, Alpha, and more

This is the first time in history that five generations or more are in the workplace at one time – Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha.

Sandy, who returned to work in tech in 2022 after a 12-year break, noticed this right away. “When I left, I was the youngest person and I worked with all of these older guys,” she says. “Now the workplace spans the generations and so I had to adjust to that.”

TIME provides tips for What to Know When Five Generations Share an Office, including recognizing that generation is just one layer of identity.

5. Collaboration tools galore

One thing you won’t find on your new desk? A telephone. These days it’s more natural to connect at work via Zoom. Another change is that a lot of communication happens informally and almost instantaneously through Slack, Gchat, or Teams rather than email.

You might also be surprised to find that reports and other documents are written collaboratively. In addition, your calendar and that of your teammates may be public and, depending on what’s expected at your company, anyone can put a meeting on anyone else’s calendar.

If you’re not familiar with collaboration tools, consider learning and using Google apps to get some practice. Once you get a free Gmail account, watch these free tutorials and then practice at home.

6. Always be networking

It’s no longer the norm to stay at a company for decades at a time. Today you’re responsible for your own career, and so networking doesn’t stop when you get a job. Always find ways to be a resource and visible – at your company, in your field, at side gigs, or in your volunteer work. Connect with everyone on LinkedIn. Your next job will probably come from someone you already know.

Join the Path Forward Community as one step towards widening your network.

7. Teamwork over individual work

A University of Pennsylvania study found that simple tasks are best accomplished by individuals while difficult ones are more efficiently completed by a group. The workplace has embraced teamwork and group projects, and so you’re likely to work with colleagues across different departments and functions.

Build strong relationships with members of your team by viewing collaboration as a “relationship science.”

8. HR, unlimited PTO, and ERCs

Another thing you might notice? No HR. Many businesses have eliminated traditional HR departments in favor of PEOs (professional employer organizations), which are outsourced firms that handle payroll and benefits. There’s also been a move toward unlimited PTO (paid time off) or combined holiday, leave, and sick days.

A trend we embrace is the rise of ERCs, or employee resource groups, that bring a company’s employees together to discuss and act on issues they care about, such as diversity or working caregivers.

Consider the pros and cons of unlimited PTO.

9. Technical aptitude is expected

A degree of self-reliance and basic technical skills are expected of everyone. Gone are the days when a secretary, assistant, or junior team member is the one who manages your calendar, handles your expenses, creates your Powerpoint decks, holds a Zoom meeting, or sets up a spreadsheet. Google and YouTube are your friends – you’ll want to first search for an answer before asking a colleague.

If your skills are rusty, do searches on YouTube to find free videos that explain what you’d like to learn. Or check out the courses on LinkedIn Learning (the first month is free).

10. Working across time zones

At some companies, teammates may be located across the country or the other side of the world. In fact, a 12 p.m. ET meeting may be the only slot that accommodates everyone’s time zones! You may not have access to your co-workers throughout your work day as a result.

This article includes 9 tips on how to work successfully with teammates near and far.


Lisa White is a writer with more than 30 years of experience. Her background includes serving as editor for four magazines. She is based out of the Chicago area.